Last week I wrote about the HP Industry Summit, focusing on what HP did very well and what it could improve. The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that it was like most other industry events.
Even though presentation technology has dramatically changed, and even though we have examples of transformational events such as TED and sales excellence from folks such as Steve Jobs, events that are designed change minds and sell products haven't changed much in the 30 years I've been doing this job.
Yes, we use digital images instead of overhead projectors, foils and film, but the process hasn't evolved with the technology. The most advanced thing we typically see? Videoconferencing from a remote site — which Apple did with Bill Gates in the late 1990s.
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Now, I know that doing stuff the same way over and over again is safe, and I'm well aware that taking risks and doing things differently can backfire, especially if done badly. Given what we've learned over the last decade, and given the difference it could make, I think it's worth a shot.
For TED and Steve Jobs, Talks Are More Than Words
Two books by Carmine Gallo do an excellent job of showcasing what we've learned about successful presentations. Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs focuses on pitching products and staging, while Talk Like TED explains how to pitch an idea so people pay attention and are moved by it.
Jobs and TED talks such as Sheryl Sandberg's are remembered years later. And for different reasons: Jobs sold a ton of products, while TED talks change minds. During these events, when folks email and text, it's all about what they see, not how bored they are. (That is, if they're not sitting quietly, mouths open in awe.)
Sadly, you can't go to see a Steve Jobs talk anymore, and if you find one on video, it's a pale shadow of what it was like to actually attend one. As an example, here's the iPhone announcement from 2007:
I recall leaving a different Jobs presentation thinking it was the best thing I'd ever attended, only to have someone point out that he actually hadn't said anything newsworthy. But his presentation style and attention to detail turned the mundane into magic.
TED speakers, meanwhile, use passion, effective writing and visual aids (rich slides, animations, videos and physical products) to entertain the audience and make believers. You can see TED talks online, but here, too, the best experience is in the audience. The talks aren't designed to tell you about something, as most event speakers do; rather, they are meant to move you, to change your mind, to make you think different.
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While it often seems that the goal of an event is to get through it without an embarrassment, the goal should be to make a lasting impression favorable to the company, products and services at the core of the event. You can't do that by talking to slides or reading off a prompter. You only do that with passion, a focus on excellence and a few of the amazing visual tools we've developed over the years.
With Analytics, Your Audience Can Get What It Wants
Analytics is one of those tools. With it, you can get a sense of who's in your audience (whether it's media, analysts, customers, employees or investors). When you know this at a granular level, you can tailor the experience for every influential attendee, making sure that every one of them gets the experience that will best move him or her. If someone's been Tweeting about Charlie Sheen, for example, you can work in a related joke that applies to the message you are attempting to convey and pulls that Twitter user back into the discussion.
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Analytics can show, over time, what's working and what isn't. You can build in corrective procedures and prevent a disaster. For instance, if you notice an influential attendee getting angry, you can push resources to him. Offer a relaxing spa service, perhaps. (I once got worked up at a Compaq event, and that's exactly what the company did. Damned if it didn't make a difference.)
Because so many technology firms sell analytics products, this would also be an incredible showcase of their tools and a fantastic example (which could be conveyed in a TED-like talk) of the benefits of using them correctly. Not only would it showcase how the firm is using the tool; it would drive home by personal example what a huge difference it could make for the customer.
The Tools Are in Place to Do Something Magical
We all have limited time in our jobs and, unfortunately, on the planet. We get a choice to tread water, and not take risks, or to swing for the fences. Granted, when you swing for the fences and miss, you strike out — but, my goodness, if you make contact, it transforms your life and those around you. TED and Steve Jobs show us all how to do amazing things. Why not do it at events where your company depends on the results?
HP talked about technology and progress at its analyst event and made no major mistakes. Here's a company that has revolutionary cloud technology, whose products are used to make blockbuster movies, design supercars and even customize walls in your home or the exterior of your car. Hell, at one time HP had a smartwatch that made the Samsung Galaxy Gear look insignificant.
HP did a good job, no different than any other competent technology vendor, and has improved massively over the last couple of years. But the company could have created magic. With the skills from TED, Steve Jobs' example and today's technology, you can create magic.
I'd sure love a little magic. Wouldn't you?
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.